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USA 1972
Directed by
Robert Benton
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Bad Company

As debut director Robert Benton and his co-writer David Newman together penned Bonnie And Clyde (1967) you would be justified in expecting something a little different from this film and you’d largely be right although Bad Company is more quirky than classic. This time round they take on the Western and give it a deconstructively comedic spin that recalls Robert Altman’s similarly-spirited McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971)

Jeff Bridges plays Jake Rumsey, the leader of a rag-tag group of young Civil War draft-dodgers who live by petty thieving, largely from women and children.  Jake robs another  young draft-dodger, Drew Dixon (Barry Brown), but when their paths co-incidentally cross again Jake convinces Drew to join his gang as they quit the United States and head Westward.

The pioneering  journey West is, needless to say, a staple of the Western genre but Benton’s approach is decidedly irreverent and deflationary. Not only are Jake and his merry men (Drew is somewhat of an independent, self-financing entity) a bunch of distrustful opportunists quite prepared to double-cross each other but the dangers they meet are not warring Indians but thieving white men, not to mention a settler returning from the West who offers the lads the charms of his wife for $8 which for the day was probably quite a bit.. As the boys progress, stealing and being stolen from their numbers are gradually whittled away by bullets or rough justice until only Drew and Jake are left, and by this time they have dug themselves into a life of crime from which we know they are not likely to escape.

Episodic in nature, the film which was lensed by Gordon Willis, is often amusing, especially in the repeated encounters with a band of incompetent bushwackers lead by the dryly sarcastic Big Joe (David Huddleston) and it maintains an appealingly low-key, bantering style of dialogue that is supported by a jaunty score.

The rewards may not be unduly impressive but the film deserves some recognition as a worthy addition to the contemporary taste for iconoclastic revisions of the Western genre.

FYI:  The film features an early screen appearance for John Savage whilst Benton went on to win an Oscar with Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979, the same year that Brown, a likeable screen  presence, committed suicide.




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